SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)Challenged for the first time this season, top-ranked Oregon responded in typical fashion.
Leading No. 17 Syracuse by just one point at halftime, the Ducks broke open the game with a dominant third quarter, outscoring the Orange 31-16 en route to a convincing 81-64 victory on Sunday. Satou Sabally scored 23 points in her first game of the season and Sabrina Ionescu and Erin Boley each added 19 to lead Oregon.
”We were penetrating more and finding gaps. We knew we would,” said Ionescu, who finished with seven rebounds. ”We played Ducks basketball, kind of just played in our flow.”
It was the first real test of the season for both teams and the first road game for the Ducks (4-0). Syracuse (3-1) hadn’t hosted the No. 1 team in the country in nearly a decade and has failed to register a victory in 18 games against the top-ranked team.
The teams met last season in Eugene, Oregon, and the Orange led by six with two minutes to play before the Ducks rallied for a 75-73 victory. No rally was needed in this one for the Ducks, who took control with a dominant third quarter, outscoring the Orange 31-16 to break open a one-point game.
Ionescu, who finished with seven rebounds, hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Ducks a commanding 62-46 lead heading to the final quarter.
”They battled us and battled us,” Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. ”In that first half we struggled a little bit to get any kind of continuity going. That’s what they do with that zone. They take things away from you. They make you play at their tempo. I just thought that third quarter was real important for us to kind of get back out and play the way we did. We built a little cushion and just kind of hung on from there.”
Kiara Lewis led Syracuse with a career-high 23 points and Emily Engstler had 10 points and nine rebounds.
Held scoreless in the first two quarters, Ruthy Hebard came alive in the third, scoring seven points in less than 2 minutes after Lewis had tied the game for the Orange at 38-all with a 3-pointer.
Hebard, who had 11 points and 13 rebounds for the 43rd double-double of her career, started her personal surge with a fast-break layup and followed a 3-pointer by Boley with a three-point play to give Oregon a 48-40 lead. Boley’s fifth 3 of the game boosted the lead to 53-42 late in the third.
Sabally, back with the Ducks after missing opening week while playing overseas with the German Women’s National Team, followed with a 3 seconds before Ionescu’s long-range shot closed the third period.
”We didn’t execute,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. ”You can’t give up seven points with pretty much no time running off the clock against the No. 1 team in the country. That was very disappointing. We gave up 31 points in the first half and gave up 31 points in a quarter. A disappointing second half We’ve got to do a better job to close down teams.”
Oregon had not trailed in its first three games, but that changed against the Orange. Lewis hit a 3 from the top of the key to give Syracuse an 18-15 lead early in the second quarter and a follow by Digna Strautmane boosted the edge to 26-19 with 5:41 left in the second. Oregon finished the half shooting 9 of 34 (26.5 percent) and Ionescu didn’t score her first point until she converted a free throw with 5:27 left in the second quarter. Hebard, the Ducks’ leading scorer at 23.7 points per game, missed all three of her shots in the opening two periods and was held scoreless. The Ducks closed the second quarter with a 12-4 spurt to gain a 31-30 lead at the break.
Oregon had 16 offensive rebounds to 11 for the Orange and had 18 second-chance points. Four Oregon players had three offensive boards apiece.
”I thought we held them in check in the first half,” Lewis said. ”We missed some assignments. I think that was the big thing. It was a great test for us. We fought hard. It’s going to help us for the rest of the season.”
Syracuse point guard Tiana Mangakahia is sitting out the season after undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She led the Orange with 15 points and eight assists in last year’s loss to the Ducks and this year is more or less a bench coach during games. Ionescu spotted Mangakahia right away in warmups, walked over and gave her a big hug. Selfies followed later. The Ducks took a team photo with her.
Oregon: After a run to the Final Four last season, Oregon debuted at No. 1 in the AP Preseason Top 25 and hasn’t missed a beat. The Ducks began the year with a surprising exhibition victory over the U.S. women’s national team and had not been tested in winning their first three games by an average of 45 points. A step up in competition against the Orange shows they’re solid even if their stars struggle a little bit.
Syracuse: The Orange showed some early grit but had no answer for the Oregon surge. Lewis gives Syracuse a steady presence and Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi showed spunk inside, finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Oregon plays Oklahoma State on Thursday in the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
Syracuse plays Houston on Thursday night in the Greater Victoria Invitational in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
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